Is this America?

12 Jan

There is a sad corner inside New Orleans’  joyful French Quarter: the Katrina Exhibition of Louisiana State Museum. Not until I saw the show did I understand why a police officer shot himself dead after evacuating the Superdome. Some part of the exhibition was quite intense that my tears couldn’t help falling, and I had to go to the restroom, got some tissue, took several deep breath and came back to the exhibition hall.  Some voices kept striking my eardrum: “I opened the door of the Superdome, and smelt something I had never smelt before… we had to wade through liquid consisted of urine and…” “Something you should always keep in inside..” “When we arrived at the bridge, someone there started to shoot at us and commanding us to leave the bridge.” “Most people were with there shotguns.” “You just won’t laugh as hard as before..” The residents of NOLA has a thousand reasons for their anger: why the city left us on our own? why we were expelled from one place to the other with no one telling us where we can stay? why I cannot go back to my house to save some of the most precious belongs in my life? why it took that long for the army to arrive? why the local offers and the army were not coordinated at all? what happened to that god damn levee? why as an African American, I got far more less public compensation to repair my house than the whites who live in thee neighborhoods with higher property tax? What happened to America? The feeling that this is more a man-made disaster than a natural disaster makes me sadder. I cannot help comparing what happened in New Orleans to how Chinese dealt with Wenchuan earthquake. FEMA was under-prepared in 2005 for Katrina. Tthey are prepared now, hopefully.


Brief of my LEED AP Exam on ND

16 Dec

It was interesting to see the article on LEED-ND from the Planning magazine I got one day after the exam. It can never be a perfect system.  The prerequisites may be discriminating rural and low-density suburban areas, its weighting system is controversial, and it not talking effectively with main-line land use planners. I think many of them are valid points except the last one. “What gets measured gets done.” We always know the trade-off of metric systems: it tends to simplify reality but makes effective communication. Developers are a significant stakeholder missing in this article. It will be interesting to know what they are thinking, because they are the real key for LEED ND projects. (I might read more of ULI stuff.)

I took 2 tests in a row, the LEED Green Associates Exam and the LEED Accredited Professional Exam. My scores are 179 for GA and 186 for ND.

The GA test is very general in testing understanding of green concepts and the goal and process of LEED. It won’t ask about a specific credit, but it will ask “what approaches to take when you want certain features.” So you need to look through LEED NC rating system at least to understand the goals and corresponding approaches, but not numbers or credit requirements.
Study Materials:

Sample questions:

  • A lot of questions on CFC, policy, leakage rate, phase out plan, Montreal protocol, etc.
  • A lot of questions of recycled content and material reuse (giving u a scenario, and you will be able to identify which category of materials this belongs to.)

The AP part of the exam is really credit-focused. Most questions are about one or more credits/ prerequisites. For half of the questions, you will be fine by remembering the requirements section of each credit. But for the other half, understanding calculation and implementation will let you have a better handle from the tricky options.

Study Materials:

  • LEED ND Reference Guide

Sample questions:

  • Which of the following approaches will gain 1 or 2 points for Community Involvement? (For the community meeting approach, remember is unofficial.)
  • Given the area of the land, and its density, how much area needs to be undisturbed/ landscaped/ set-aside to make the project eligible for certain prerequisite/credit.

Compact Intelligent House in a container

3 Dec

After I posted the Egg House yesterday, I saw the Container House in Beijing. The designer is a master student of mechanical engineering. He and several friends spent 3 months and 120,000 RMB (about $17,000 ) to make a 9 square meters (81 square feet) house in a container.

The house is controlled through mobile phone. The phone can control the virtual landscapes of the room, folding and expanding of the furnitures, movement of the fixtures, and lighting. All the above functions can also be controlled through internet.

The house also has a wind turbine and a rooftop patio. The energy status of the house is also monitored through mobile phone.


“Snail Dwelling” in an Egg House: How much space do we need?

2 Dec

Have you seen the “egg house” in Beijing? If not, you should scroll down to see it below. This small “egg shape” house cost Y6400 (less than $1000) for materials. The house has a bed, a desk, a sink and a book shelve inside, and a solar panel on the top of the egg shell. The electricity of the house partly comes from solar, and partly from storage cell which is charged in the house owner’s office once per month. The water also comes from the office. The house owner laughed that water and electricity are extra welfare he gets from his employer.

The owner of the house, Haifei Dai,  is an architect in a design company in Beijing. He has been bothered of the extremely high living expense of Beijing, especially the price of both rental and for-sale housing. The Chinese create a new word “snail dwelling” to describe current living situations for young people in big cities: the dwelling space for them is as small as the shell for a snail. Dai belongs to this group of young people, who is struggling to survive in Beijing.

He got the “egg house” idea from a design competition his company was involved in. He borrowed money to buy all the materials, got help from 3-4 friends he knew from college in Changsha, Hunan Province, and they spent two months building this house in Hunan. After completion, Dai spent 3000 RMB to transport the house to Beijing. Up till now, he has been living in this house for 2 months. He works in the office 8AM-12AM on weekdays, and hangs out with friends on weekends. He is happy about no need to pay rent, so that he can spend money somewhere else. He is not so worried of the cold winter.

However, Dai has been requested to move the egg house by local inspector and the property manager. The house has been sitting in the public space of a neighborhood. Can the egg house survive? Will it go indoor under the pressure? Or become an art  piece on the lawn of a museum?

I feel both inspired and helpless when I see the collision of extraordinarily innovative talent and the cruel surviving rule. How can we make cities more affordable so that they can be more diverse and amenable? New York has been an often-used example to demonstrate how to accommodate wealthy investment bankers and great artists in one city. But you can also see artists migrating from SOHO to Brooklyn and then to? It is a common issue for all the mega cities. Is compact dwelling an approach to the solution?


Rational vs. Non-Rational Propaganda

17 Nov

Westerners usually refer to Chinese media as “communist/socialist propaganda”, or simply “propaganda”; similar thing for Nazi Germany.  This had led me to believe that “propaganda” is a really bad word — just like the notion that “revolution” is a really good word. Now in US with the Right vs. Left media war more fierce than ever  and two parties pointing fingers to each other and saying “this is just propaganda!”,  it is both illuminating AND confusing about the true meaning of the word.

I came across this post by Mark Cassello the other day, which in my opinion serves as a great textbook material in civic education on the subject:

In Propaganda in a Democratic Society (1958), Aldous Huxley differentiates two forms of propaganda. The first, which he lauds, is called “rational propaganda.” This type of propaganda agrees with the “enlightened self-interest of those who make it and those to whom it is addressed.” In other words, the purveyors of and the recipients of both stand to benefit from the dissemination of this propaganda.

The second, called “non-rational propaganda,” is not necessarily aligned with anyone’s “enlightened self-interest,” but is instead “dictated by, and appeals to, passion.” The former, he argues, is vital to a democratic society that serves the long-term interests of all while the latter creates a world filled with “misery” in which people, moved by passion more than reason, are driven to act against their own self-interest.

Then Cassello went on offering his take on how the Right’s “non-rational propaganda” has come into dominance in the past 30 years, by establishing “fabricated foes” and manipulating the audiences’ fear and “desire to protect themselves and their families from some form of ‘violation'”. Finally he gave some advice for Democrats and the like on how to learn new, if they have any, media skills to make their “rational propaganda” feel as good as that of their opponents, for those, if I may say, less-enlightened people.

In some sense, I think this is essentially the point Bill Maher was trying to make in his criticism of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally early this month, all of whom I love, in that you really can’t win the battle in a noble way against a “dirty player”. Human nature tries to settle for one of two extremes and avoid the complicated in-betweens, and that’s the Right’s best game, even if it’s something as surreal and preposterous as Glenn Beck (see 10 Funniest Videos Mocking Glenn Beck).

My Google Earth Biography

14 Nov

I haven’t thought about writing a bio using Google Earth instead of Microsoft Word until I saw this post: I wonder if Google Earth Tool can be another form of memoirs after physical books, ebooks, documentary movies and audio books.

And then, I took a test and marked in Google Earth all the significant places in my life, and tied them up into a video tour. I know I can always add new texts\ pictures\ videos related to my experience in these places in the future. However, because I am using a free-version wordpress blog, I cannot share the kmz file I made in Google Earth. But I picked the following 6 screen shots. They are neighborhoods where I lived more than 3 months, and the screen shots are of the same scale (Eye at 2000 meters).

Conclusion of this practice: (1) I made a good transition from living in huge condo buildings in China to small houses in the States; (2) I don’t mind living in cul-de-sac neighborhood if it’s served by convenient transit; (3) New York is really dense, and Kansas City really has beautiful suburb; and (40 I don’t think the concept “block” really applies to urban context in China… in a lot of the cases.

南昌航空大学, Nanchang, Jiangxi, China

北京大学,Beijing University, Beijing, China

Northwood, Ann Arbor, Michigan

7 Corners, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Jackson Heights, New York City, New York

Kansas City, Missouri

Bring Bohai Sea’s Water to Xinjiang

12 Nov

The idea has been over the media these days, after a summit held on Nov 5th in Xinjiang. Is China going to take its humongous hydro project to the next step? It’s been more than 50 years’ of research and evaluation for the South-North Water Transfer project. During that period of time, China has been building numbers of dams, pumping stations, etc. Major critics focus on the cost to build such a huge water infrastructure, and the negative ecological/hydro-geological influence from the project.

This Bohai-Xinjiang project can only have more critical issues to justify itself. The engineering technology in channeling and transporting the water, whether it loses more energy in elevating water or gains extra energy when the water flows down west, the cost of desalinate sea water, and do we have alternative ways more effective in solving the problem?


In the past 20 years, a lot of the critical decisions of the country were made by engineers. They are proving the world how mighty human beings are in changing the environment/landscape used to build by nature. Contrary to the traditional Chinese philosophy that human beings and the nature as a whole, we are extremely challenging nature. I saw benefits this practice has brought to people, and am also worried of the potential revenge from the nature.

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